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17th Biennale of Sydney Announces Major Artist Projects
Paul McCarthy, Ship of Fools, Ship Adrift 2, 2010, rigid urethane foam, steel, wood and carpet, 600 x 365 x 730 cm. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

SYDNEY.- The 17th Biennale of Sydney announces details of artist projects that will premiere at THE BEAUTY OF DISTANCE: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age presented from 12 May until 1 August 2010 at leading cultural institutions, contemporary art spaces and heritage sites. David Elliott, Artistic Director, has selected 166 artists from 36 different countries to contribute works.

Seventy (70) artists will premiere new work in Sydney including a major installation by Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto presented inside the abandoned Power House on Cockatoo Island. The installation comprises light-box mounted prints from the artist’s ‘Lightning Fields’ series, presented on stage-like platforms that ascend towards a thirteenth-century Japanese sculpture of Raijin, the Japanese God of Thunder. The work results from Sugimoto’s recent experiments of photographically imaging electricity on large-format film and explores the relationship between light, energy, power, and the dawn of life itself.

Also on Cockatoo Island, British artist Isaac Julien presents a major new nine-channel video work, Ten Thousand Waves (2010), which explores diaspora and migration through a story that entwines legend with the realities of modern China. Ten Thousand Waves is inspired by the tragic deaths of over 20 Chinese illegal migrant workers who drowned in England in 2004 while picking cockles in Morecambe Bay. The installation traces the workers back to their origins, culture and history and uses the image of water – the sandy waters of Lancashire, the Yangtze River and the Shanghai Bund – as a symbol of danger, trade, modernity, mystery and economic power. A ghostly protagonist leads the viewer through a story that examines from a poetic and artistic standpoint the motivations of need and desire that drive people to undertake perilous journeys to achieve a better life.

London-based three piece band the Tiger Lillies premiere their new ‘post-punk’ neo-Brechtian opera Cockatoo Prison (2010) about crimes and society’s attitude towards them. Fronted by Martyn Jaques, the performance draws on the complex history of Cockatoo Island as a brutal former penal colony and considers ways in which crime is regarded and power is dispensed within contemporary society. Joining the band on stage, an ensemble of percussionists behind bars play the part of prison inmates.

Influential American artist Paul McCarthy premieres a major new installation at Pier 2/3, Walsh Bay, entitled Ship of Fools, Ship Adrift 2 (2010). McCarthy is known for his work critiquing and exploring western society’s obsessions – mass media, popular culture and icons of consumer, entertainment and art industries. His new sculpture is a contemporary rephrasing of the medieval allegory of the Ship of Fools, depicting a world of power without principle as the ship and its denizens hurtle obliviously towards their own destruction.

At the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chinese artist Shen Shaomin has created new work that continues the artist’s ‘Bonsai’ series. These tortured ‘living installations’ reference the contrived and controlled nature of this traditional art form as a comment on the despoliation of nature and the environment, and the painful aspects of beauty and control in society. On Cockatoo Island, Shen will also present a new installation, Summit (2010), conceived in part as a response to the global financial crisis and the apparent failure of capitalism. The work features a hypothetical meeting of the corpses of the most significant communist leaders in history, their bodies arranged in a pentagon formation.

Berlin-based French artist Kader Attia fills one of the cavernous spaces in Cockatoo Island’s Turbine Hall with a 312-square-metre patchwork of corrugated iron and scrap roofing materials reflecting improvised dwellings and shanty towns across the world. A microcosm of contemporary reality, Kasbah (2010) looks at how the other half lives in a world where poverty is at such a scale that almost half the world’s population subsists on less than US$2.50 a day.*

One of the oldest houses on Cockatoo Island will host a new work by Melbourne-based artist Rosslynd Piggott. Shelter (2006–10) responds to the island’s layered history of punishment, sadness and labour to create a flowing series of poetic spaces and images intended to transform the site’s dark residue into a beautiful, haunting and memorable experience. New and mysterious elements are introduced to alter the once domestic rooms and the viewer’s perception of them. The work is both a conciliation and acknowledgement of the spirits who lived there.

New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based artist Daniel Crooks premieres a new video on Cockatoo Island, Static No.12 (seek stillness in movement) (2009–10), which takes as its subject the slow and graceful movements of a man taking tai chi exercise in a Shanghai park. Crooks’ study of this gentle martial art is a meditation on the movements themselves, as the sequence of tai chi forms appear and disappear in a molten assemblage of attenuated body parts. The body’s movement spreads horizontally across the frame and the viewer is astonishingly aware of the entire span of the practitioner’s compelling routine.

Also at Cockatoo Island, Australian artist Peter Hennessey presents a vast new sculptural work, My Hubble (the universe turned in on itself) (2010). This life-size ‘re-enactment’ of the Hubble Space Telescope – a space-based observatory that has revolutionised astronomy by providing deep and clear views of the universe – is constructed out of plywood and steel. Visitors are invited to play with the world the telescope depicts, to modify and create their own universes that they can then view, reflected in the ‘eye piece’ located high in the air.

Australian artist Brook Andrew presents a contemporary war memorial titled Jumping Castle War Memorial (2010). This seven-metre-wide ‘bouncy castle’ is designed as if it were an attraction for children. But it is presented with a catch: only adults over 16 will be allowed to jump on it. On closer examination, we see its plastic-enclosed turrets contain skulls that represent those often forgotten peoples who were the victims of genocide worldwide. The diamond black and white pattern references Andrew’s Wiradjuri culture and represents the experience of cultural amnesia and hypnosis. The question is posed: to jump or not to jump?

Chinese collaborative artist duo Sun Yuan and Peng Yu present Hong Kong Intervention (2009) at the MCA, a work that inserts itself into the everyday lives of Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong. For the project, the artists invited 100 Filipino workers to take a toy grenade and photograph this object in their favourite spot at their place of work. These photographs are then shown alongside a portrait of the participant with their back turned. The work incorporates a playful yet sinister humour in its format as a game and many of the contexts in which the grenade was placed by the workers communicates their creative wit. It also addresses the emotions and issues underlying the relationships between the migrant workers and their Hong Kong employers, and examines the phenomenon of workers living away from home, integrating themselves into the families and homes of others.

Seoul-based artist and designer Choi Jeong Hwa will create a new site-specific intervention in and around the Sydney Opera House. Using brightly coloured moulded plastic goods, he will transform part of the Opera House’s iconic silhouette. In another work, titled The unbearable lightness of being (2010) and shown in the Royal Botanic Gardens, he presents a large lotus blossom in the garden’s Main Pond that inflates and deflates in emulation of the cycles of nature.

The Royal Botanic Gardens will also be the location for a new work by Australian artist Fiona Hall, entitled The Barbarians at the Gate (2010). This work introduces a group of beehives into the gardens. Painted in military camouflage patterns associated with different countries, one of the hives will contain a live colony of Trigona carbonaria, also known as the Sugarbag Bee. To allude to the sprawl of human and botanic traffic around the world, each hive is given a stylised ‘roof’ to reference its particular country. Hall is thereby creating a microcosm of the colonial-era nation-building processes of introducing people, plants and animals into new habitats, forever changing the ecology of a particular place. Feelings of paranoia follow as the foreign becomes ‘the nation’ while, as before, ‘the barbarians (are) at the gate’.

Performance artist Marcus Coates presents a new installation, A Ritual for Elephant and Castle (2010), at Artspace. The piece involves footage of a live musical performance with London-based music collective Chrome Hoof in 2009, alongside scenes of Coates, accompanied by a stuffed buzzard and a trombone, responding to redevelopment plans in the area of London’s Elephant and Castle. We see him engaging with the local inhabitants in a shamanistic act of comic yet sincere public service. Artspace also hosts SuperDeluxe@Artspace, which includes an exciting 12-week evening program of live music performances, films, PechaKucha Nights and unexpected happenings.

The 17th Biennale of Sydney | THE BEAUTY OF DISTANCE | David Elliott |

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